Back to Stories

In Yellowstone, It's a Time Of High Animal Energy And Skyward Atmospherics

Winterkeeper Steve Fuller rises for sunrise and returns with a bounty of imagery that speaks to profound change happening now in America's oldest national park

Fuller writes: "A 'mist-bow'—a sunrise albino version of a rainbow. I've been looking for one with buffalo at the ends of the bow for years, and the other morning I saw one."
Fuller writes: "A 'mist-bow'—a sunrise albino version of a rainbow. I've been looking for one with buffalo at the ends of the bow for years, and the other morning I saw one."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Steve Fuller has had a front row seat witnessing the summers of Yellowstone National Park. He is best known for being a "winterkeeper" stationed at Canyon located near the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, one of America's most breathtaking natural wonders. But Fuller is also a renowned photographer and he is a columnist/field correspondent for Mountain Journal. Not long ago, he passed along  photographs and captions, pertaining to the energetics of bison, elk and Yellowstone's moody summer weather.  Enjoy!

Photos and words by Steven Fuller

A tangle of two pair of velvet bull elk antlers.
Meanwhile, a bull elk youngster oblivious to the destiny inherent in the first nubs of antlers that will shape the rest of his life. Nor does he realize how his antlers may make him a target for hunters when he migrates out of the park in autumn.
For this elk calf of the year, mother’s milk nourishes several doublings of its size before winter sets in. 
While the calf might not be aware of threats posed by humans and other animals, its mother is always alert, particularly in vulnerable moments.
She and her sisters know they are a prey species.
They are ever alert.....
A bull elk and a bull bison share a common space.  Even in close proximity I’ve never seen conflict between them, though I  have known buffalo bulls to kill horses in similar proximity…among several of those killed was my Appaloosa named P’nut.
I live near the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Early morning and the canyon is indirectly illuminated. A plume of vapor rises from the base of the Lower Falls and catches the early light of sunrise. Hokusai’s "stone wave" dominates the canyon wall on the upper left and if you are intimate with the feature it appears to crest like his wave…below...for now  both are frozen in time.
"Tsunami" by Hokusai, 19th century
In Yellowstone, elk and bison follow 'the green wave" of grass in the park's valleys and across the high meadows and mountain slopes. Here, alto
cumulus clouds—always beautiful, especially with a buffalo bull beneath atop the horizon.
Unsettled interesting summer weather is common up on the Yellowstone Plateau. Mammatus clouds often portend weather which frequently make for spectacular dark and stormy nights in the skies above the quarters I have inhabited for 50 years.
Against a dark storming sky, a few minutes before sunset, the light broke through on the western horizon and illuminatedthe vapor plume above from the lower falls and at the same time made a distant rainbow.  To the right a smaller plume rises from the upper falls.
The same storm, the same night, seen from the stoop of my home.
A few minutes later, same view. Another of a fast changing sequence of a brief extravagance of lightening and thunder, nature’s own son et lumiere.
Three bull bison have just forded the Yellowstone River....
...and make their way up the river bank to the meadow-ed hills above. 
The exuberance of the young, a calf of the year, full of energy.  
Ahhh! the aromatic scent of tender green grass, the soma of life.  
A sophisticated hoofed tool to scratch what needs to be scratched.  
Two statuesque bison bulls stand at pre-sunrise along the Yellowstone river.  The only animation is the two geese flying upstream.
Interesting dawn light hangs over the twin hills of a geyser basin. 
Curious early morning clouds... the home mountains are in the distance, half veiled by a reef of morning mist. 
In the windless pre-sunrise air a plume of a hot spring vapor hangs above the valley floor while a small skittish kinship group of ever nervous cow elk try collectively to decide what to do …There are wolves in the valley and the decision is important.  
An elk dexterous in her yoga.  
She also tends to her morning grooming needs. 
Not far away in Hayden Valley, a young buffalo bull feeling his spring oats.
Many behaviors come with our genes, from the beginning we practice for our adult roles.  
Calves of the year...dominance behavior with a hint of the sexual behavior to come. 
Two youngsters practice for the future opportunity to pass their genes unto the next generation. When they have grown to become mature breeding bulls their success will be determined by some times mortal combat.

A buffalo mother and her calf. She is the source of nurture before and after birth. Nearby a bull grazes building his strength for the contests of the rut season about to begin.  All the players are in their place for the annual rendezvous of the buffalo people and their accompanying spectacular procreative dances. For everything there is a season.
In mid to late July, a certain sign that bison rut is beginning…tending, sniffing, lip curl.
In August, bison rut is happening…two breeding bulls go tete a tete with formidable force at the point of impact (W=KE=Fd=21​mv2⟹F=d1/2mv2​). In fact, I am clueless as to what the equation means, but impressed by the brute force portrayed in the photo.  
The Anthropocene is upon us! Jjust one of terra/trillion planet wide manifestations of the machine in the garden, a garden where there are no rocks that need to be tamed.  
Sniff the flowers while you can, the seasons are changing. 
Sunrise is about to summit the eastern horizon while the river wends its way to a distant sea. The home mountains are on the horizon to the north and all is well. 
Raven confirms that the sun also rises.
The risen sun illuminates the mist drifting over the Yellowstone River. The geese are going with the flow, the bison bull has business up stream.

POSTNOTE: Do you enjoy uplifting stories like this about Yellowstone that you won't find anywhere else? If yes, please support Mountain Journal so we can bring you more great content like this. In addition, make sure you never miss Steve Fuller's amazing photos and inspired essays by signing up for MoJo''free weekly newsletter. Click here: 

Steven Fuller
About Steven Fuller

Steven Fuller has been the "winterkeeper" at Canyon Village deep in the heart of Yellowstone National Park for 48 years.  Well traveled on several continents, he is also an award-winning nature photographer.  Follow him at A Life In Wonderland appearing exclusively at Mountain Journal.  His collectible photography is available through Fuller directly. This profile photo taken by Neal Herbert/NPS
Increase our impact by sharing this story.
Defending Nature

Defend Truth &
Wild Places